I can’t go up because I don’t know how.
Nobody has shown me.

So many names, my mother, I’m never sure
   what to call you. So many names for all your predators
   and crushes and suitors. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I’m here and I’m sorry I’m not here.
   Would you have made it on your own
   without the comorbid condition of motherhood
   and the slowness and consistency of time?

I’m sorry for the slowness and consistency of time;
   years like zombies dawdling toward a cliff edge
   holding back the child’s writhing body, itching to grow, packed
   around the same mind I have now.

I’m sorry the concept of promise outgrew the concept of child
   and that systemic contradiction and wizardry left only a dim sense
   of suspicion; a crescendoing breeze, accumulating clouds
   amidst bewildering dichotomies.

I’m sorry for resembling your relatives and captors and the man
   who penetrated you, who’s still there, communicating boldly
   via intersections of others’ thought waves and memories,
   blatant into the long nights, haunting,

   for my inferiority in the face of nuclear family culture,
   feeding on detritus of white goods, leisure sports, laminate floors,
   a real home and fake recycling,

   for creeping by night into a tight void, blinds down, brain blown
   glass-thin, electric impulses and bloated thoughts bolted in.
   For this life being the only one my quiet mind knows,

   its many versions and phases, I’m sorry. I wasn’t your daughter
    — or anyone — when you were the blue-water navy,
   or the beheaded, or the baby boy. Or was I?

I’m sorry I was not yet born and could not yet hear you
   when you were over there, listening carefully
   for the rain and small movements of animals, for sounds
   of life, through a green, five-fingered haze.

I’m sorry I consider sentiment, fact; authenticity, originality,
   when they are irrelevant. So many choices
   in supermarkets, the natural habitat of panic attacks,
   it’s enough to make anyone sorry and I am.

I’m sorry it’s taking over half a century to link your purple-patched
   brain scan to the basic biology of stress. The piano thunders on,
   sustain pedal wired to the facial muscles of all your neglecters,
   aching like hell behind their stamina and machinery.

I’m sorry I had, logically, to think of my own self first / simultaneously,
   navigating through the fire and acid of Trust and her sycophant
   Love before returning. All the powerful were women; the power
   of penises and facial hair originated there, cajoled by matriarchs.

   As if skin and breath were insignificant!
I’m so sorry.
   Where are you now, to take into my arms and resuscitate?
   Is it too late, given you’re fifty and no longer a child?

   It’s always mothers and mind control which is why
I thank you for breaking the cycle, withstanding the enormity
   of generations, magnetic as water,
   to let us go. You weren’t to know

   about other outrageous families and sadistic counterparts.
   A nugget of my limbic system remembered choosing my own
   lemon-yellow baby clothes so thank you.

   I squeezed that into the thumb-sized space
   in the palm of my hand knowing all along they were wrong
   and imploding with it.

I’m sorry I wept in the shower for your canceled wedding,
   letting the violet dress down the plughole, unsure
   what it all meant except things staying the same, future
   aggravating my brain, a baby brother gone again.

I’m sorry you were out there, alone, defined by the worst
   of others and defined by your children’s prisms of hope
   and survival mechanisms. In one version, you did marry and lived
   in a house with green walls and extravagant furniture.

I’m sorry that consensus reality had you set fire to your bed
   as you lay in it; arrested, put in a cell, let off the next day
   because the lawyer believed it was a genuine attempt
   and convinced the police.

I’m sorry you’ve had to withstand such torrents
   of  knowledgeless advice and legal toxification,
   clinging to reality by a sinew of tooth, remembering yourself,
   through the rough and the smooth.

I’m sorry I was absent, memorizing books of the Bible
   for a bar of Dairy Milk, owning up to things
   I’d never done, getting confirmed as an antidote
   to the evil core of me.

I’m sorry it was exotic to think of kids like me
   ending up in prison, coincidentally, inevitably
   or prevented (which is the same), salvaged, peristalsized
   through society, brain safely contained,

   doused daily in cold water or electricity
   or disgrace, temptations kept consistently far enough away
   as to appear illusory

   like you, my brave mother, fantastic prodigy
   in flowing white caftan, knotted long brown hair, a beautiful gaze
   of solemnity, rare stone, emotionless (defined by others).

I’m sorry I was ill-prepared for your soiled mattress
   and comatose body, under a wave of advocaat
   and transistor radios oozing with cheap Scotch. Even I
   developed feelings for them amidst adults acting like it’s okay

   to leave you this way, the blue bottle flies in on it,
   inflated with dog shit and red hot egos, resting on your cheek,
   your lip, too cunning to get rid of.

I’m sorry that laughing off a difficult childhood
   didn’t make it never happen. Even a basic calculator
   recognizes an infinite loop as a malfunction; don’t they see cutting
   off my privates every night needs additional information?

I’m sorry I talked you out of wounding yourself
   although I know it feels hopeful and lets in sunlight and air
   through an open door. I’m sorry I can’t help you go up.
   I, also, don’t know how.

I’m sorry I prioritize the stimulation of adrenalin and opioids
   in my own axis before I come to you. Thank you
   for believing I love you even though you know
   I don’t know love or trust it.

   I dreamed a baby died from kidney failure. The worst part?
   Not knowing distress from relief in the face of the mother,
   like a child in an experiment. What does this mean?

   My man fearing a moment of madness. Not locking the
   knives away but keeping a steady eye on them, paying attention
   to the moon and turning moods. He underestimates me;

   I’m my own doppelgänger. Here I am, locked to him, discussing
   sex positions and holiday destinations. Here I am
   courting solitude in the doorway, a pair of eyes and a chest cavity

   thrumming on the dark boundary between survival and self-control.
   While there are no babies, I carry on. I am testament to the problem
   of the baby. Look at me — flaunting my own survival. Who am I?

   Except the parasite that accidentally caught on
   to your womb wall as you lay stoned on a fur-lined coat
   in a hallway in Moss Side? Happy accident, accidentally on purpose.

   Close the piano lid. Empty a drawer. Things happen.

I’m sorry for absences, holidaying in France, studying guilt,
   time-traveling the pain barrier, intent on nerve endings
   and their connections to various biological systems.
   Learning to accept and relinquish responsibility appropriately.

   Throwing back the hot stone in a horizontal line.

Thank you to the policeman who took all the men whose safety
   you feared for to the pub so you could come home
   for dinner, monologue, nail varnish remover, a set
   of impartial weighing scales and cheap French wine.

I’m sorry about the home, the wine, the monologue resonating
   against the plastic mug others might keep for you, fussing
   over makeup-smeared walls, upholstery and understatements.
   I’m a bit sad we can’t see Al. He comes on the radio sometimes.

I’m sorry I’m not bringing you home, finally, to thrive and repair.
   I wanted to stay, singing Luther Vandross on the walkway
   outside at 6 a.m., fetching toast from the neighbor. I was hoping
   for perfection, believing in anything, all those years.

   Is it too ambitious to hope? I’m sentimentally sorry
   despite a genuine fear of sentimentality and pseudo-unhappiness,
   struggling under the weight of an A1 poster on complex trauma

   and a pair of Sennheiser headphones to lock me in.
   Think of what it is when God himself puts his arms around you
   and says “welcome home.” There’s nothing mysterious

   about my thoughts or affect, nor yours, nor anyone’s, biologically
   generated by the relationships we hide our consciousness from.
   Oh unhappiness and infidelity! Disguised in metaphor

   you’re nothing but the deep yearning of an infant for its mother
   and the furiousness. Making this connection is like remembering
   being born, which is like folding time, which is no one to blame and
all the world to blame.

Thank you for picking up the handless, footless doll
   in the park, saving him from a dog or fox or thoughtless children,
   keeping him to your breast on the tram, the bus, in pubs
   and not noticing the scathing looks.

   I learnt to trust without you, leaving my thoughts
   outside for five minutes and trusting the neighbor’s cat
   not to urinate on them.

I’m sorry my stand-in mother was an evil replica, machine-like
   yet unpredictable. We tried to calculate an algorithm for her
   mood, as you would’ve done, and in 14 years never cracked it.
   She remained seated when I left for the last time.

You weren’t to know
   and they wouldn’t have believed you anyway.
   We learn to accept the clouds for what they are
and wait, patiently.

More Poems by Ruby Robinson